Subject: AFP: East Timor to hand over security in capital to Australian troops


26 May 2006

East Timor to hand over security in capital to Australian troops

DILI : The East Timorese government will hand over responsibility for security in the capital Dili to Australian troops, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta told AFP in an interview Friday.

The decision was agreed by President Xanana Gusmao, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and the head of the national parliament during a meeting late on Thursday, Horta said.

"Now the Australian troops are the ones holding the reins of security," in the capital, Horta said.

"The president of the republic, the head of the national parliament and the prime minister have agreed to sign the conditions for the Australian military."

"The Australian troops will hold control over the city of Dili and will move to other districts as needed," said Horta, speaking at the government palace.

He said that the government would pull East Timorese armed forces back to their barracks in Metinaro and Baucau, at least 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside the capital.

Horta said that the government would continue to look into the matter "so that the PNTL (the national police force) can regain the reins of security in the city of Dili," but he did not elaborate.

He said that the decision to return the armed forces to their barracks was made by Armed Forces Commander Taur Matan Ruak himself.

"They are returning to their barracks to await any further order from the president of the republic," Horta said.

Horta said that members of the East Timorese armed forces will retain their firearms.

The government, he said, was calling on all East Timorese who are not members of the armed forces or the national police to surrender their weapons to the Australian forces.

"Whoever does not surrender their weapons to the Australian troops will be sought and arrested. This order becomes valid today," Horta said.

"With the presence of the foreigners, the disarming of the irresponsible civilians will be done by the foreign troops."

Some 350 Australian troops have arrived in East Timor, Prime Minister John Howard said from Canberra Friday.

He also said that he expected that by the end of the weekend "all of the entire battalion group force of 1,300 will be there," he told commercial radio.

Canberra agreed to send troops to its northern neighbour on Wednesday as fighting around the tiny nation's capital escalated between armed forces and deserting soldiers who have been seeking a redress over alleged discrimination and abuses in the military.

Horta said that besides the 1,300 soldiers committed by Canberra, another 500 would come from Malaysia, close to 200 from Portugal and almost 100 from New Zealand. - AFP/ch

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